Nicaragua's President Withdraws Social Security Reforms That Sparked Violent Unrest

Apr 23, 2018, 12:29
Nicaragua's President Withdraws Social Security Reforms That Sparked Violent Unrest

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega scrapped Sunday a contentious pension reform that triggered four days of violence in which two dozen people were killed, but rioting students vowed to keep up street protests until he is ousted.

Officials said Friday at least ten people had died in the protests.

Minutes later, news emerged that journalist Angel Gahona of the news show Meridiano was killed while covering unrest in the southeastern city of Bluefields.

People stand in front of a store that has just been forced open and looted, in Managua, Nicaragua, Sunday, April 22, 2018.

The growing sense of crisis has sparked panic-buying in supermarkets, and looting was reported at some stores early Sunday.

Protesters accuse riot police and troops deployed across the country of carrying out most of the violence. "That is why they are put at risk", Ortega said.

Nicabus, an worldwide bus line with links to Costa Rica and Honduras, said it has been forced to suspend services due to the violence.

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The protests have been partly driven by students in the capital of Managua, but have rippled to at least 10 cities across the country.

In a televised national address, Ortega said the board of Nicaragua's social security system had voted to revoke the measures that were approved last week. "Anti-riot police had been using rubber bullets, but not anymore - they are using round pellets", he said.

Even before the incident in which Gahona was shot dead on Saturday, journalists have reportedly faced attacks, been temporarily detained and had their equipment stolen since the start of the protests.

The BBC reports that independent TV stations have been taken off the air after broadcasting the protests live.

Police on Thursday said one 33-year-old officer had been shot dead.

A former Marxist guerilla and Cold War antagonist of the US, Ortega has presided over a period of stable growth with a blend of socialist policies and capitalism. It increased pension contributions for workers and employers and reduced overall benefits by 5%.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement the violence "is unacceptable, differences can only be resolved through inclusive dialogue".

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Analysts and business leaders said the protests were fueled by dissatisfaction that went well beyond anger over pension reform.

"This has not been seen for years in Nicaragua", Carlos Tunnermann, former Nicaraguan ambassador to the USA, told AFP.

The prelates visited the cathedral a day after violent clashes between protesters and the police force, which took place in the area surrounding the cathedral.

That the protests have occurred "in nearly all the cities of the country, in all the universities" and "have been repressed with violence by the government, means that there is a malaise of the population not only over the reforms, but for the way in which the country has been run", Tunnermann said.

In a statement released on Friday, the Nicaraguan bishops' conference rejected the reforms to the social security system and expressed its support of the "scream of the Nicaraguan youth".

"The Nicaraguan State has to fulfill its global obligations to guarantee that the people can freely exercise their rights of freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful gathering and association", a government spokesman said.

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